Sunny Acres, Dan De Vaul’s ranch and sober living center, was in rare form on the morning of Aug.15: It was nearly empty. Other than a few ranch hands, some media folk, a dozen or so chickens, and a large goose who was in a very bad mood, the place was deserted.
Oddly, that’s not the way the county inspectors saw things.
“There’s evidence of people living here,” said Cheryl Journey, the chief building official for San Luis Obispo County.
Indeed, there were some bits and pieces of clothing and refuse around the place.
“Couldn’t this stuff have been left behind weeks ago?” asked a New Times reporter.
“That’s for the court to decide,” said Journey, who was gathering evidence for an Aug. 25 court date at which De Vaul is scheduled to appear. “In court, everything is open for interpretation.”
The day after the inspection, De Vaul was before SLO County supervisors asking the county to waive permit fees for a planned 14-bedroom facility. Supervisors granted a deferral of the fees with a list of conditions that De Vaul clear existing code violations and prove Sunny Acres is maintaining its programs.
“I’m looking for that good faith step on Mr. De Vaul’s part,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “… If we were to go ahead and waive these fees and nothing happens, then we’d be back at this all over again.”
At the ranch it was clear that Journey and three other county inspectors thought they had found what they were looking for during their brief inspection: evidence of habitation. Full refrigerators and abandoned clothes amounted to evidence that people are still living there, at least in their eyes. One official said the eight wells on the property were contaminated, though he said he couldn’t find any source for the contamination.
Asked if there was anyone living on the property, De Vaul answered simply: “Look around and what do you see?” He motioned to the empty sheds that used to hold Sunny Acres residents.
Three of the four inspectors finished their work early and gathered next to one of the barns. One shared that he had discovered a great wine that weekend but was irritated that the winery wouldn’t ship a case to his house. Another inspector shook her head.
As they were talking, a frail, tired-looking woman approached and silently listened. She said nothing as the inspectors walked to their cars and left.